Solanas' A Journey to the Fumigated Towns offers an inside view on the ongoing pollution and growing extermination of Argentina’s population caused by the soya industry.

Dieter Wieczorek
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: September 20, 2018

A Journey to the Fumigated Towns

(Viaje a Los Pueblo Fumigados)

Fernando E. Solanas


Argentina 2018, 96min

Solanas’ documentary, presented at the 2018 Berlinale, starts with images of an illegal deforestation in the province of Salta located in northern Argentina. As a native forest, this terrain is protected. But thousands of hectares of centenarian wood were felled in only a few weeks, mainly for soya bean cultivation.

Solanas structures his film in ten chapters, offering lucidity and rhythmic elegance. Using his own camera and a second camera filming his actions, meetings and dialogues, he creates a natural transparency, which hides nothing on the set.

Mass poisoning by fumigation

He jumps right into the centre of the catastrophe. Solanas meets the ingenious Wichí population, the original owners of the land, who now live behind fences. Others were forced to migrate and settle in nearby villages to avoid the bombardment of agrotoxins sprayed from airplanes. The main source of their food has been destroyed. Facing hunger and all kinds of illnesses caused by fumigation, they are condemned to disappear. Their children have never consulted a doctor or seen a teacher. Their survival – with no access to drinking water, shoes and other essential materials – is threatened. Their requests for help from the Argentinean government and the deed holders have remained unanswered.

Helplessness is also the overwhelming feeling shared by a school teacher, who breaks down in tears in front of Solanas’ camera. She had observed the periodical return of the fumigating airplanes, spraying their deathly cargo over the soya fields just beside the school area, sometimes right over it. In these villages surrounded by soya bean plantations, the entire population is affected by a growing number of respiratory and blood illnesses, including cancer. A significant change in neonatal pathology has been observed in the last 10 years, including terribly mutated miscarriages or deformed babies, which is intrinsically linked to the increasing application of agrotoxins, as paediatrician Dr Ávila Vázquez and his team have witnessed.

«Solanas structures his film in ten chapters, offering lucidity and rhythmic elegance.»

Argentina has lost its soul, remarked an eco-agriculture expert. Millions of hectares of soya production are occupying the most fertile lands. Its consequence is not only the destruction of the ecosystem and biodiversity, but also the depopulation of the territory. A shocking 200,000 agricultural plantations and 700,000 jobs, including those of indigenous farmers, disappeared in Argentina in the 1990s. Abandoned villages, schools and country houses mark the landscapes. No insects, fauna or butterflies, not even birds can survive here anymore. The beekeeping culture has been totally extinguished.

Big business

A Journey to the Fumigated Towns Fernanado E. Solanas

Monsanto, in collaboration with BASF, are the main culprits of these disasters. They developed Glyphosate in the 70s, a toxic «star herbicide», which in this case, no other plant but their soya could survive. And when their patent expired, they created a new soya species and distributed it for free with the aim to reduce the functionality of their ex-patent. The Argentinean government didn’t intervene in this process. On the contrary, it allowed the distribution of the new soya seed to its neighbouring countries countries Bolivia and Paraguay.

The uncontrolled growth in soya production resulted in falling prices, bringing the industry into crisis. Once again, 100,000 small producers lost their livelihood to the benefit of banks, financial groups and significant landowners.

Solanas points out the alliance between the government and the agro-industry, dominated by Monsanto. Its commitment in «sponsoring» activities on local TV and radio stations bought them silence. Already intimidated by the fear of losing their jobs, victims could not speak out. Facing the alliance between prevalent landowners, the justice system and the police, there is no chance for change, not even escape.

«In the villages surrounded by soya bean plantations, the entire population is affected by respiratory and blood illnesses, including cancer.»

The contamination of vegetables with pesticides and agrotoxins isn’t limited to the directly polluted areas. Pesticides have been found in the arctic, and have entered nearly every person’s bloodstream. Toxins, which have entered a plant through the ground, cannot simply be washed away. The result is a growing global number of cancers, a phenomenon that began to appear in the middle of the 20th century, when chemicals started to contaminate food, working places and water supplies.

A Journey to the Fumigated Towns Fernanado E. Solanas

Scientific and medical studies into the connection between agrotoxins and the growth in illnesses – for example the escalating number of cases of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer caused by the effects of contamination by glyphosates – are systematically silenced by the government, local political authorities, university administrations and even the press. Today, universities are financially dependant on company orders, which can certainly influence the «results» of scientific investigations, if not stop the ongoing research altogether. Solanas recalls the polluted and dying, the unprotected workers and truck drivers, losing their lives for the sake of the industry’s profit, a silenced fact in itself.

Resistance and hope

Of course, there is resistance. At the School of Medicine in Rosario, teachers and 200 students organised medical camps to investigate the population’s health in fumigated towns. About 100,000 people were contacted and observed. Damián Verzenassi, leader of this initiative, testified that on the day his group was asked to present their findings in The Hague during the famous Monsanto trial, the university administration had barricaded the doors of their offices, where all of their equipment was stocked, with chains. A ray of hope: the construction of a new, large production centre for Monsanto agrochemical products was abandoned as a direct result of the decisive resistance of the population.

«Food quality controls at the source are not even required in Argentina.»

Fernanado E. Solanas

A major problem is the lack of food quality controls. Some interventions are ineffective and absurd because the results are available only after the food is consumed. Controls at the source are not even required in Argentina. Questioning the efficacy of the controls put in place for exported foods would require another documentary.

A Journey to the Fumigated Towns does not freeze the spectator in a no-way-out perspective. Solanas visits the eco-agriculture initiative Horizonte Sur. Its organic garden is a political proposal: A family with a small plot of land can produce the majority of what they consume, with their own resources and with respect to ecological cycles where one phase feeds the other. As Pedro Peretti claims, even financially speaking nothing can beat mixed farming, which is less expensive than fumigating.

Another agro-ecological initiative, Paititi, practices biodiversity, avoiding any imported grains or oil seed. Here weeds are not destroyed. Their organic production avoids any agrochemical, fertilizer, or insecticide. Another project is Naturaleza Viva, an organic food production cooperative that has 700 members. The project focuses on using agro-ecological and self-sufficient energy, and also self-producing necessary raw materials.

A significant step towards helping Salta would be to declare the areas surrounding the city as semi-rural in order to supply food to the communities. Unfortunately, with the blatant dependence of all social, political and governmental circles on the soya industry, even such small steps are out of reach.

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